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Karate Champ and Street Fighter may have preceded it, but Street Fighter II is the game credited with defining and popularizing the 2D fighting genre. With multiple playable characters, "secret" special moves and an accurate control system featuring an eight-way joystick and six buttons, Capcom introduced the fundamental concepts of one-on-one combat that would carry on through just about every fighting game that followed it.
Street Fighter II takes place a number of years after the first Street Fighter tournament, in which Ryu defeated Sagat. M. Bison, a dictator from Thailand, hosts a new tournament and again invites the world's best fighters to compete. What immediately sets Street Fighter II apart is this unique cast of fighters, each with their own environment, history and motive. Throughout its numerous variations, sequels and offshoots, the Street Fighter series would see plenty of characters, but none quite as intriguing as Ryu, Ken, Blanka, Chun Li, E. Honda, Guile, Dhalsim and Zangief. Like Mario or Pac-Man, these characters became familiar icons whose popularity extended beyond the videogame world — into anime, comic books, cartoons, a movie and various other merchandise.
The one-player game consists of a series of winner-takes-all battles against the seven playable characters and four boss characters: Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison (in that order). Each combatant has a life bar at the top of the screen that is reduced every time an opponent connects with an attack. A "KO" is achieved when one player's life bar reaches zero. A player must win two out of three battles to progress to the next stage. A second player can join in at any time and interrupt the tournament.
The control layout consists of six buttons arranged in two rows. The top row of punch buttons are labeled jab, strong and fierce, while the bottom row of kick buttons is labeled short, forward and roundhouse. This setup, along with an eight-way joystick that controls ducking, crouching and blocking, allows for a huge number of move combinations and Street Fighter II's most revolutionary feature: special moves.
Although the original Street Fighter introduced the concept of performing special moves, the technology was not precise enough to adequately handle the complex joystick and button combinations necessary to make such a concept practical. Accordingly, special moves were more of an aberration than a feature. But in Street Fighter II, fireballs, hurricane kicks and hundred-hand slaps became a fundamental part of gameplay. A special move could be as simple as rapidly pressing kick (Chun Li's lightning leg), or as difficult as rotating the joystick in a 5/8 circle and pressing punch (Zangief's pile driver). At first, these moves were considered a secret, but they soon became common knowledge as both players and gaming magazines spread the word to the masses.
The immense success of Street Fighter II led to a resurgence in the popularity of arcades in the early '90s, paving the way for games like Mortal Kombat, Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown. Capcom itself cashed in on the craze by releasing four upgrades: Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Two games in the Street Fighter Alpha series would follow before Capcom released a true sequel in 1997. ~ Skyler Miller, All Game Guide